Going for the One marked the end of an era for Yes, what I outline in this and other reviews as the band’s ‘golden era’. Spanning from The Yes Albumto Going for the One, Yes released gem after gem, and every album within that six year space warrants attentive listening from anyone who dares mention a passing interest in progressive rock. With Going for the One, it was clear that the proggy fervour was cooling off- punk was famously being said to have killed off prog, and a zeitgeist of once-progressive bands giving up their mellotrons and moogs for three minute pop songs was right around the corner. Going for the One was a final bold statement before Yes‘ quality of output began to dip; it may not have the firm sense of identity or consistency as the five records prior, but the fifteen minute titan “Awaken” alone is more than worth the price of admission.
Going for the One opens with its hyperactive title track, a high-energy rock tune that signifies the album’s general approach. Although it’s got a twinge of the chaotic wall-of-sound from Relayer, Going for the One tries to express that scope and bombast with a more concise style of songwriting. As far as the title track is concerned, Yesmanage to make this backscaling of their sound really work. For all of its twelve bar bluesy straightforwardness, “Going for the One” (the song) is incredibly dense sonically and initially struck me as being too cluttered for its own good. The vocals may still seem a bit drowned out in the sonic chaos, but the infectious catchiness and energy was more than enough to win me over. “Turn of the Century” was a much easier track to get into. A more tender acoustic piece in the style of “And You And I” or “To Be Over”, it’s one of the most beautiful things Yes have ever done. The instrumentation is soft and gentle, but it’s Jon Anderson’s vocals that really stand out. In a long career of beautiful performances, this might be my favourite of his. The stark contrast between this and the title track feels a little odd in terms of album flow, but both stand out individually.
“Parallels” sounds like what J.S Bach may have come up with if he set out to write a rock song, although that might be giving it too much credit. To be honest, the triumphantly organ-fuelled third track has never failed to underwhelm me, each time I’ve revisited the album. Wakeman’s organ intro sounds massive and starts the song off on a note of potential, but it fires blanks. The melody feels rushed and forced, and any dynamic is drowned out by the ubiquitous organ roar. “Parallels” represents a rough patch in Yes‘ transition back to more accessible territory. Like the title track, “Parallels” tries to marry the wall-of-sound instrumental chaos of Relayer with more accessible song lengths. Unlike the title track, “Parallels” fails; counting everything in the band’s golden period from “The Yes Album” to Going for the One, this might be my least favourite song of theirs. It’s not terrible, but it’s surprisingly underwhelming, a sentiment that carries over to “Wonderous Stories”. I guess it makes sense to have had this as the single, but the breezy acoustic tune never feels anything more than merely pleasant. I’ve never really understood why this song was chosen to represent the album on the Classic Yes best-of compilation over this album’s title track. Some things are best left as mysteries, I guess.
Prior to the fifteen minute “Awaken”, Going for the One has been a pretty rough and inconsistent ride, with two hits and two misses. Even if “Turn of the Century” is one of the most beautiful and heartstopping songs they ever wrote, such a low batting rate is more than enough to jeopardize the album’s repute. I’m sure the album would have been one for the dogs too, if it weren’t for “Awaken”. The band were generally quite vocal about their love and pride in this epic, with Jon Anderson calling it the best composition Yes had, or have ever made. Bold words to be sure, but “Awaken” lives up to it. By this point, Yes had had plenty of experience and success with epics; “Close to the Edge”, “The Gates of Delirium” and the full extent of Tales from Topographic Oceans were ample training enough for them to knock this one out of the ballpark. While “The Gates of Delirium” still stands a head above the others as my own favourite, “Awaken” sounds lively and as perfect as anything Yes have ever done. Beginning quite slowly as Yes epics often do, the suite’s initial dynamic surge is one of the coolest passages I’ve ever heard in progressive rock. Compared to the tranquility of the first two minutes, “Awaken” erupts with vitesse and intense beauty. Howe’s psychedelic twang sounds equal parts aggressive and welcoming, and the building vocal line has an incredible sense of immediacy to it. As the dust settles after the first surge, Yes pair off the rich classical organ music with space synthesizers, creating a blend of music I might expect to hear in an astral cathedral. By the epic’s latter third, “Awaken” has lost some of its momentum, and though there isn’t a moment here that falls short of excellence, it is a little disappointing that the way it ends isn’t as impressive as the way it begins. If that slight dip hadn’t been there, “Awaken” would stand as being one of my favourite progressive epics. Even as it is, it’s an incredible piece of work, and its reputation does not go unfounded.
In no small way, “Awaken” saves Going for the One. There is plenty of creative inspiration here, but two mediocre songs and an indistinct personality keep the album from keeping up with the real masterpieces. All the same, I could think of worse ways for a band to say goodbye to their golden era. When it’s all evened out and averages are tallied, Going for the One stands as a solid record, and though I don’t think I’ll ever have the same emotional connection with it that I hold with some of Yes‘ earlier works, some of the band’s most gorgeous material is here, just don’t be surprised if a few duds come along for the ride.
1. Going For The One (5:30)
2. Turn Of The Century (8:58)
3. Parallels (6:52)
4. Wonderous Stories (3:45)
5. Awaken (15:38)
Total Time: 40:43
Bonus tracks on Elektra remaster (2003):
6. Montreux’s Theme (2:38)
7. Vevey (Revisited) (4:46)
8. Amazing Grace (2:36)
9. Going For The One (Rehearsal) (5:10)
10. Parallels (Rehearsal) (6:21)
11. Turn Of The Century (Rehearsal) (6:58)
12. Eastern Numbers (Early version of “Awaken”) (12:16)
* Jon Anderson – vocals, guitar (6,10,12), harp (7)
* Chris Squire – bass and vocals
* Rick Wakeman – keyboards
* Alan White – drums
* Steve Howe – guitars